I have almost always noticed women in a way that is not quite poker-straight. From my early teens, women have fascinated me. My favorite thing to draw was old Hollywood female movie stars. I've noticed men, too, in the same way, waiting for my Prince Charming ever since my Cinderella phase (I read the book and watched the film at least twice a day without fail for a full year). But we live in a heteronormative society, so being open to a Prince Charming doesn't exactly go against the grain.
I have also been a devout Catholic for most of my life.
My religious side drives me to repress my homosexual desires and makes me terrified to talk to close friends whose faith is as strong as, if not stronger than, my own.
Once I passed my 16th birthday, my fascination with women grew stronger and morphed into what my religion calls "same-sex attraction."
Things kicked into high gear at my high school's spring semi-formal dance my sophomore year. It was the first slow dance of the evening and, being that I didn't have a male date, I opted to join one of my female friends for three minutes and 30 seconds of swaying in circles. What happened during that time was entirely unexpected; I had butterflies fluttered in my stomach. and I felt myself blushing in the dimly lit auditorium. I dodged her gaze, just in case she could see in my eyes that my heart was warmer than the punch that had been sitting out for several hours. If I didn't know for a fact that she was straight and that it would ruin my reputation, I would have kissed her right there. I'd never felt like that before, and I had zero clue what to do with that feeling, so I swallowed it.
When the next slow song led to a bunch of sweaty, hormonal teenagers squishing bodies, I avoided her like the plague.
When school let out and summer was in full tilt, I decided to open up to my best friend about these new feelings in the safest way I knew: over the phone. I used the word "bisexual" to describe myself in the most timid, halfhearted way possible. My best friend, a strong Baptist churchgoer, chalked it up to the bipolar disorder with which I had been diagnosed around that time. Something told me this explanation missed the mark, but I decided to drop it so as not to lose her friendship or make her see me in a perverse light.
Over the next couple years, questioning my sexuality took a back seat to the exploration of a different part of my identity: my spirituality and its calling in my life. I'm a cradle Catholic who has had an on-again-off-again relationship with my faith, but for much of my senior year, I fantasized about running off to a convent or even becoming a consecrated virgin (a woman who is, for lack of a better explanation, "married to Jesus"). There were a handful of days where prayer seemed like the greatest chore and Bible reading was shoved to the back burner for YA lit, but from my final year of high school to the beginning of what was supposed to be my first semester of college, I pretty much forgot that I'd ever been romantically curious about the same sex.
But I couldn't ignore my bisexuality come October of my first stab at a freshman year of college (spoiler alert: I did not manage to finish it). I was hospitalized for mental health issues, and I had been assigned a new roommate, the ward's freshest meat, early in the morning a few days into my stay. She could not have been better-suited to me had I put her together myself. We had a slew of things in common. We were both writers and adored the same song that I was certain no other being in the universe had ever heard. Dinner time rolled around, and I gushed about how lucky I felt to have her as a roommate.
One of the guys were were eating with was balancing his chair on the back two legs, Joe Cool as all get out.
"You're crushing, aren't you?"
I blinked. "What?"
"You like your new roommate an awful lot for just being friends."
I giggled even though I didn't find it funny. I could feel red creep up my neck. The guy I'd been chatting up over the previous week and hoped to nudge out of the friend zone was sitting across from us, absorbed in his own thoughts. In between giggles, I coughed out a sputtering: "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Straight chicks don't typically get all giddy about other chicks."
Dude I Totally Dug looked up at me. I knew he was fervent Catholic, and, not wanting to completely turn him off for all time at what he might consider an abomination, I decided then and there to deny, deny, deny.
More giggles bubbled out of my mouth. "Seriously, it's not that. Cross my heart."
He clicked his tongue. "I guess it's just between you and God."
Another young woman who had been casually talking about the joys of boobs several hours before chimed in: "It's all OK. I like girls — I'm bi-curious. Trust me, it's better to know and have that label than wonder what's going on and constantly shove it down."
"But I'm not!" I insisted.
A staff member motioned for our table to get in line to receive our piles of nondescript dietary mush and close-to-expiring milk, and the Gaydar Gang dropped it when we sat back down.
What made me uncomfortable wasn't that I was crushing — it was that someone finally picked up on a part of me that I thought no one ever would, and that struck a nerve. I felt nothing more towards her than friendship — that much was true — but I knew then and there that I had been deceiving myself for years, and the sparks that flew in tenth grade weren't just a bipolar brain hiccup like my friend had suggested.
Over the months following our discharge, that Catholic guy and I talked for hours every day and soon made it Facebook Official. We discussed everything and anything, and I grew more and more comfortable talking to him about the things I had kept inside for far too long. Eventually, I decided to open up to him through a means that felt safer than the old-fashioned phone call: texting.
"I have something to tell you," I typed. He asked what was wrong. "Don't freak out, but I like women." I was sure that he would break up with me then and there. "I would give anything to not feel this way."
He prodded around to get a better picture, asking if it was toward specific people or just women in general. He seemed to believe that I was overreacting to the fact that I found women good-looking when they were undeniably so, and I was beginning to feel even more fearful that once he completely understood, we would be over and done with.
"I'm almost definitely bisexual." No more beating around the bush. My heart was pounding in my ears.
He took a while to reply. I braced myself for the clean break.
"If you wouldn't act on it, your heart is in the right place. We all have our temptations. I accept you, all of you. It doesn't make me love you any less."
I exhaled for the first time in what felt like minutes. He was right — because of my faith, I would never give in to the lustful urges that creep into my mind about my fellow females. And if he could accept my attraction to women, it dawned on me that I should stop beating myself up, plugging my ears and pretending this side of me doesn't exist. I could accept myself, too.
A few days later, I brought it up to my best friend again. It had been years since we talked about it. I told her that I was pretty sure that it wasn't a manic thing, that I was definitely bisexual, and that I hoped she wouldn't be weirded out or want to put the kibosh our friendship.
"You're basically my sister, she said. "It'll take more than this to kill our friendship. We've been through so much together. I don't know what to tell you, but I don't see you differently at all."
As it turned out, for a second time, I was worried about absolutely nothing. It made me feel more at ease, and having her acceptance and love confirmed the idea that I should love and accept myself. It realized that these feelings don't lower my worth as a Christian or make me dirty or unlovable.
Today, I am very comfortable with my sexuality. However, the side of me that is attracted to women is a side that will die alone, a spinster with a house full of cats. And I'm perfectly OK with that. I'm open about these feelings with my best friends, and my boyfriend is still very much OK with it. A while back, I was watching a film with a female lead who was indisputably much more attractive than the male lead, and I had no problem texting my Christian sister to joke, "That feeling when the chick in this flick is so much hotter than the dude."
There are still days where it's a struggle, though. Having to curb lustful thoughts for one gender is hard enough — having to do it for two requires me to be more vigilant and guard my mind and heart twice as much; it makes me have twice as many instances where I feel like I let myself wander too close to the fire.
I like the term "same-sex attraction." It makes me feel as though this is a small part of me that I can keep in check while remaining true to my faith. I do find that I'm more attracted to women than men, but I am committed to one person, and even if we don't work out in the long run, I will choose to steer clear of women and opt for another male partner for the sake of my faith.
We all have our struggles. Mine happens to include having bisexual feelings as a devout Catholic woman. It's my stumbling block, but rather than tripping over it time and time again on my journey to heaven, I step around it. I am treasured for who I am — every sliver of me — by the people I look up to, and that helps me value every part of myself, including my sexual orientation.